Tyler Cowen argues that curing diseases like malaria that plague developing nations will do less than one might hope to boost economic growth in Africa: “There are, let’s say, thirty different major problems in sub-Saharan Africa. Eliminating any one of these problems will hardly matter, even if there is no Malthusian trap. Economic growth is all about complementary factors, and more generally it is hard to produce outputs of real economic value.” Be that as it may, I think it’s always worth reiterating one key benefit of public health-oriented aid programs — they prevent people from dying. More and better mosquito nets may or may not place Country X on the road to enhanced prosperity, but either way you’re still better off not getting malaria. It’s become fashionable to denigrate GDP growth as a social goal, which I think tends to get taken too far, but there’s clearly something to be said for that critique.
UPDATE: Apologies. I somehow missed Cowen’s second paragraph and skipped from this material ahead to the discussion of Jeff Sachs. But he writes: “The lives are worth saving for their own sake, and perhaps it will herald a larger push out of misery. But, taken alone, such an initiative won’t much improve measured economic growth.”